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Camden New Journal - by PAUL KIELTHY
Published: 20 March 2008

John Massey, jailed in 1976 for killing a bouncer
Back behind bars... the prisoner whose ‘crime’ was to spend a few hours with dying dad

INSIDE PENTONVILLE: First-hand account of life in ‘overcrowded penal dustbin’ from an inmate who has spent 32 years locked up

AS the visitor queues at the first of a series of security checks on the way into HMP Pentonville, a prison officer reaches over to stamp his hand with a damp chemical sponge.
It dries quickly to a barely visible patch during the succession of detection arches and sniffer dogs that lie between the street and the visiting room, but glows bright under ultra-violet lamps and is checked, twice, before the visitor makes contact with the inmates.
And again as he leaves. Pentonville takes precautions against anyone trying to overstay his welcome in its Victorian cells, trading places with a prisoner.
As well it might. The prison has never been fuller, never been busier, never, according to inmates, been so chaotic.
For John Massey, who has a claim to be Britain’s longest-serving prisoner after 32 years inside, the overcrowding is a tragic and frustrating waste.
Sitting in his luminous bib in a long row of fellow prisoners, Massey is a fit, contained 58-year-old watching the stream of families and friends fill Pentonville’s visiting room.
Released last year on licence from his life sentence for the murder of a bouncer at an East End club in 1976, he finds himself back in the cells – for breaching his licence by spending the last hours of his father’s life with his family.
As Massey wrote to the Prime Minister in a letter he showed to the New Journal: “I am again in prison. I have committed no crime, nor is my intention ever to change that. I am in ‘breach of licence’. I have been in this overcrowded penal dustbin since November.”
Mr Massey sparked a bizarre manhunt through Kentish Town when he breached his licence in November last year by failing to return to the Streatham bail hostel where the authorities required him to live.
As he joined the rest of the Massey family in a four-day vigil at the bedside of his father Jack at the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, helicopters and armed police searched the streets around Prince of Wales Road, where he had been spotted the day before.
An unfortunate resident had a front door smashed in by police who had mistaken the Castlehaven Road address for that of Mr Massey’s mother, who lives a few streets away.
The day after his father died, his mother May was admitted to the Royal Free with heart problems. Massey was arrested at the Fiddlers Elbow in Prince of Wales Road on his way home from the hospital – and sent straight to Pentonville.
Pencils or paper are not permitted in the visiting room at Pentonville, let alone tape recorders. Massey describes his pleasure at being recently appointed as a cleaner, which gets him out of his cell, and asks the New Journal to quote from his letter to the Prime Minister.
In it, he writes: “Jails are bursting at the seams. Within them regimes are crumbling, everyone from staff to inmates to visitors are becoming severely stressed.”
The probation services are “responsible for more cells filled than all the courts put together”, he says.
“I have no beef about being recalled. I gave them no choice. I left the hostel and tended to family matters. I have no complaints as to the legality of revoking my licence.
“My complaint is that the 28-day guideline for reviewing my case has now stretched. I’m told ‘I may be’ reviewed in May. That will bring me to six months in prison before I can be allowed to state my case.
“At today’s rate of remission that is a 12 months’ sentence! A whole year in effect without trial or access to review? There are thousands of recalls in prison for such trivial reasons as being 10 minutes late for appointments.”
Back in the waiting room, Massey expands. It takes a lot for the Parole Board to sanction the release of a prisoner. It takes a trifle for a prisoner to be sent back to prison, without judicial process. And then the waiting begins, for an overworked probation service to get round to hearing a case that will almost certainly see Massey released again, back to the shopfitting job he secured in an attempt to rebuild his life.
Massey doesn’t show his anger. “I know how to do the time. I’ve done it the hard way,” he says. And waits.

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